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Microsoft Prepping New Windows Server Flash Array Options

Flash storage is one of the fastest-growing new datacenter technologies these days and while critics warn it can cost a lot, proponents say it can vastly improve performance and reduce operational and capital expenses.

With the release of Windows Server 2012 R2, and more specifically Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, Microsoft is testing the limits of flash storage. Violin, a rapidly growing startup which went public last year, and Microsoft codeveloped the new Windows Flash Array. It's a converged storage-server appliance which has every component of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 including SMB 3.0 Direct over RDMA built in and powered by dual-Intel Xeon E5-2448L processors.

The two companies spent the past 18 months developing the new 3U dual-cluster arrays that IT can use as networked-attached storage (NAS), according to Eric Herzog, Violin's new CMO and senior VP of business development. Microsoft wrote custom code in Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 that interfaces with the Violin Windows Flash Array, Herzog explained. The Windows Flash Array comes with an OEM version of Windows Storage Server.

"Customers do not need to buy Windows Storage Server, they do not need to buy blade servers, nor do they need to buy the RDMA 10-gig-embedded NICs. Those all come prepackaged in the array ready to go and we do Level 1 and Level 2 support on Windows Server 2012 R2," Herzog said.

Based on feedback from 12 beta customers (which include Microsoft), the company claims its new array has double the write performance with SQL Server of any other array, with a 54 percent improvement when measuring SQL Server reads, a 41 percent boost with Hyper-V and 30 percent improved application server utilization. It's especially well-suited for any business application using SQL Server and it can extend the performance of Hyper-V and virtual desktop infrastructure implementations. It's designed to ensure latencies of less than 500 microseconds.

Violin is currently offering a 64-terabyte configuration with a list price of $800,000. Systems with less capacity are planned for later in the year. It can scale up to four systems, which is the outer limit of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 today. As future versions of Windows Storage Server offer higher capacity, the Windows Storage Array will scale accordingly, according to Herzog. Customers do need to use third-party tiering products, he noted.

Herzog said the two companies will be giving talks on the Windows Flash Array at next month's TechEd conference in Houston. "Violin's Windows Flash Array is clearly a game changer for enterprise storage," said Scott Johnson, Microsoft's senior program manager for Windows Storage Server, in a blog post. "Given its incredible performance and other enterprise 'must-haves,' it's clear that the year and a half that Microsoft and Violin spent jointly developing it was well worth the effort."

Indeed interest in enterprise flash certainly hasn't curbed investor enthusiasm. The latest round of high-profile investments goes to flash storage array supplier Pure Storage, which today bagged another round of venture funding.

T. Rowe Price and Tiger Global, along with new investor Wellington Management, added  $275 million in funding to Pure Storage, which the company says gives it a valuation of $3 billion. But as reported in a recent Redmond magazine cover story, Pure Storage is in a crowded market of incumbents, including EMC, IBM and NetApp, that have jumped on the flash bandwagon as well as quite a few newer entrants including Flashsoft, recently acquired by SanDisk, SolidFire and Violin.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/23/2014 at 1:19 PM


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